With Week 13 of the 2017 season upon us, NFL.com's network of reporters collects the hottest news and notes from across the league, including:
The Legion of Boom has been altered by injury almost beyond recognition, and the results show it. In the four games the Seattle Seahawks have played this season without either safeties Earl Thomas or Kam Chancellor or cornerback Richard Sherman in the lineup, opposing quarterbacks have a higher completion percentage, a much more favorable ratio of touchdown passes to interceptions and a significantly improved passer rating than in games in which everyone on that unit participated.
Which would seem to make this a particularly bad time for a visit by the Philadelphia Eagles, whose multidimensional offense has powered them to four straight victories by at least 23 points each, made them the league's top scoring offense and propelled quarterback Carson Wentz into MVP consideration.
Linebacker K.J. Wright says the Seahawks see it differently. A victory over even a struggling opponent like the San Francisco 49ers, who were held to field goals before a garbage-time touchdown last week, has bolstered the confidence of a group that is rarely shaken anyway. The building, Wright said this week, has good energy.
"It's definitely going to be a test," Wright said of the Eagles in a phone interview from the locker room. "We know how good they are. But we can take away what they're really good at. It all starts with their running game and making this team one-dimensional."
Despite the season-ending injuries to Chancellor, Shermanand Cliff Avril, that remains true. The Eagles have the second-ranked rushing offense, but the Seahawks' run defense has been at its best over the last four games. In the first seven games of the season, Seattle allowed 117.7 rushing yards per game and 4.6 yards per carry. In the last four: 64.5 and 2.6. Still, this incarnation of the Seahawks defense is not as dominant as previous groups. From 2012 through '16, the unit ranked first overall in points allowed per game, yards allowed per game, rushing yards allowed per game, passing yards allowed per game and passer rating allowed. This season, Seattle ranks no higher than seventh in any of those categories.
"We lost a lot of really good guys with Kam and Sherm and Cliff," Wright said. "It's been tough, personally. We've got to still keep pushing. Other guys have got to raise their games. We can't let this season go to waste."
As the defense has taken a step back, more of the burden has fallen on quarterback Russell Wilson, who has accounted for an astounding 82.5 percent of Seattle's scrimmage yards this season, the highest share of a team's offense of any player in the Super Bowl era. Wright laughs at Wilson's exploits.
"That's what he's here for," he said. "He's been doing it since he was a rookie."
The Seahawks have made the playoffs in each of Wilson's first five seasons. While this game is being touted as the first half of a two-game West Coast swing that represents the toughest part of the Eagles' schedule (they play the Rams next week), the Seahawks had the second-most-difficult remaining schedule in the NFL, by won-loss records of their remaining opponents, heading into Week 13. Each of their next three opponents -- the Eagles, Jaguarsand Rams, who currently have a one-game lead over the Seahawks in the NFC West -- would be in the playoff field if the postseason started today. The Seahawks would not -- they are currently the seventh seed in the loaded NFC despite a 7-4 record, creating even greater urgency. But the Seahawks are the Zen masters of the NFL, at ease with their circumstances.
Wright said the only time he has ever sensed panic is in past years, when the Seahawks have started 0-2 or gone 2-4. And they are not there now. As daunting as the Eagles' plethora of weapons would seem to be -- they have so many that there has been just one individual 100-yard receiving game and one individual 100-yard rushing game all year -- combined with the attrition of the back end of the Seahawks' defense, Wright shrugs off the idea that the secondary has become a weakness that might be exploited this weekend.
"We're all connected," Wright said. "It's not just on the secondary. They run things across the middle for the linebackers, too. If we just play, and everybody does their job, play fundamental football, we can stop that. We look at things that say, 'Those guys don't have a chance.' We have a lot of dogs on this team, a lot of experience. We lost Sherm, but we have [Byron] Maxwell. We lost Kam, but BMac [Bradley McDougald] stepped up. We lost familiar faces, but we've got to take it one game at a time. Get this one, get this train rolling."
NOTES FROM AROUND THE REST OF THE LEAGUE
ATLANTA FALCONS: Prepared for a red-hot QB. The Falcons have faced the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, Russell Wilson and Tyrod Taylor, all mobile quarterbacks who use their skill set in different ways, but all have the ability to extend plays. Ricardo Allen told me that based on the quarterbacks they've faced, they'll be prepared for Minnesota's Case Keenum.
Allen said Keenum "is faster than you think he is. ... Watching him you would never think, sorry to say this, that he's one of those QBs to just take off running, but he's tough, too, and he'll take off. Sometimes he's extending plays."
But the Falcons aren't only concerned with Keenum on the run. Defensive end Adrian Clayborn told me that the quarterback is "decisive" throwing the ball in the pocket. Over the last three games, Keenum has a completion percentage of 71 percent. Vikings safety Harrison Smith, who faces Keenum in practice, knew he was capable of performing the way he is.
"I think he hasn't changed to us at all from when he stepped into the building, just his mindset and the way he approaches every day, kind of his moxie. He always had that and he just got his opportunity to show it, and it's really not surprising to us because he's always had the confidence and that's exactly what he does on Sundays. He's the same person everyday."
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"It's like you're playing backyard football with your friends down the street or around the corner," C.J. Mosley told me last week. "A guy makes a big sack or makes a play, we're all on the sideline laughing or dancing on the field. It's always a great feeling, especially when you put the offense in scoring position all the time. So it's been fun, man."
Baltimore leads the NFL in takeaways, having forcing three more on Monday night, and boasts the second-best scoring defense in the league. This unit is averaging more sacks and takeaways per game and fewer points, yards and passing yards allowed per game than Baltimore's Super Bowl winning defense in 2012.
"That's how you got to play, and that's how we got to continue to play," defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. "Even with the dance, that was all of them. They all jumped in there. What I liked about that thing, because I'm not crazy about all that stuff, but what I did like about it was the fact that they were all doing it. It's wasn't like, 'Hey, look at me, I'm off by myself doing this thing.' This was, they all kind of joined in, and they all were having fun with it. And to me, that was a team thing."
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We all saw the unbelievable physical ability when he was taken No. 1 overall in the 2014 NFL Draft. After a slow start to his career because of injuries, he's playing like the All-Pro everyone predicted he would be. And his intelligence is noticed by those around him every day.
"In the meeting, when the questions are asked, a lot of times, even though you may be asking this guy over here, he's the one answering the question," Texans head coach Bill O'Brien said. "You almost have to get him, 'Hey, relax. We're asking this guy.' He's got a real good knowledge of what we do. He's got a real good knowledge of football."
You can also watch any Texans game this season and see firsthand the impact of Clowney's knowledge of the scheme. He'll line up in a variety of spots throughout a game, and that can only be done with an understanding of each of those positions. On top of his football IQ, Clowney has instincts that can't be taught, according to Texans defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel.
"He's great against the run because he's very instinctive," O'Brien added. "He has a great feel for the block, how he's being blocked in conjunction with how the ball's being run, whether it's being run away from him or run to him. Sometimes he guesses wrong, he does. He does make very educated guesses based on his film study and things. Sometimes he's wrong, but more times than not, he's right and he makes a lot of good plays."
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KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: What does Revis have left in the tank? As much as the Chiefs are looking for a spark for their beleaguered offense, they're hoping newly signed cornerbackDarrelle Revis can give them a lift on defense, as well. Kansas City signed the 32-year-old Revis -- who hasn't played since last season with the New York Jets -- last week. He's expected to see action when K.C. travels to play the Jets on Sunday.
"We probably aren't going to know [anything] until he gets out and plays," said Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton, who spent six seasons coaching Revis when both were with the Jets, from 2007 to 2012. (Sutton was an assistant for the Jets from 2000 to 2012.) "I just know that he's going to be well-prepared. He's played a lot of football in his career and played at a pretty high level. I think he'll be fine."
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To refresh, at times all season, the Rams have lined up in a no-huddle, forcing opposing defenses to adjust to personnel on the field. McVay calls the play in to Goff, then occasionally helps him recognize personnel, scheme, coverages and potential blitzes. The communication device between coach and quarterback cuts off when the play clock reaches 15 seconds, so whatever McVay conveys must be done before then.
Goff also isn't restricted from changing calls on his own. Case in point: Goff told me that on the Rams' opening touchdown drive in last week's win over the Saints, he changed a run call near the 5-yard line to a slant pass to Sammy Watkins that resulted in a touchdown. Goff said he recognized a coverage in which the cornerback couldn't get inside leverage on Watkins, so the play change was a no-brainer.
While this clearly shows some hand-holding for Goff, it's worked, maybe better than dumbing down and restricting the offense overall.
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"That's because we were both in 'Call of Duty,' " Villanueva said.
The Steelers left tackle is famously an Army Ranger, a West Point grad who served three tours in Afghanistan. In the summer, the makers of the video game "Call of Duty" asked him to be a character in the 14th installment of their uber-popular series. They also asked him to bring along a friend he played the game with. Villanueva chose Bell, and the two were part of filming for a couple of days this past offseason. In turn, the Call of Duty Endowment, a group that offers grants to the charities that help veterans compete for quality jobs, asked both players if they'd highlight it for the NFL's "My Cause, My Cleats" campaign. Both said yes.
"It's a good cause, and a good opportunity to show them off," Villanueva said. His cleats are personalized with his battalion scroll, but he joked that Bell's will probably get more screen time: "Le'Veon's much more popular."
William Gay reflects on 'My Cause, My Cleats' campaign. The seed behind the "My Cause, My Cleats" campaign was first proposed by Villanueva and Bell's teammate, cornerback William Gay. Two years ago, after again being fined for wearing purple cleats (in tribute to organizations combatting domestic violence) during what was then Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Gay publicly said the league should offer one weekend a season when players could advocate for the cause of their choice and not worry about a uniform violation.
Gay lost his mother to domestic violence, and he has been a tireless supporter for the Women's Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh. He even filmed a PSA about domestic violence for the NFL. He will again wear the same unadorned purple cleats this Monday night (officially Vikings team cleats in the Nike catalog) that prompted the whole movement, though he did say he's enjoyed checking out his teammates' fancier cause cleats.
"It's cool," he said of the campaign as a whole. "That was the whole point: using our platform to raise awareness for what we cared about. And our feet are what go on top of a platform."
The Bell and Brown Show.Le'Veon Bell leads the NFL in rushing yards (981) and Antonio Brown leads the league in receiving yards (1,195). Together, they account for a disproportionate amount of the Steelers' offense: Their combined yards from scrimmage account for 62.2 percent of the team's yards. (The next highest duo, the Chiefs' Kareem Hunt and Tyreek Hill, account for 49.1 percent of their team's yards from scrimmage.)
But offensive coordinator Todd Haley said he sees nothing alarming in that sort of reliance on two players.
"We've got playmakers. We're going to get it to the playmakers every play we can," he said.
To be fair, the Steelers are not unnecessarily forcing it to either Bell or Brown. They're certainly trying to involve the other potential playmakers they have. In Sunday's win over Green Bay, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger turned to Martavis Bryant, Justin Hunter, Eli Rogers and Jesse James all at various moments -- and all four dropped at least one pass. Bryant did score one of the Steelers' touchdowns, and tight end Xavier Grimble did, too, on a shovel pass.